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Mar 25, 2011

Addison: A Social Reformer

Addison was a great critic and a social reformer of the age of Queen Anne. As there was excessive immorality in the society, so the writers of the age start taking interest in the study of man’s behavior. Thus the literature of the age turns reformative; but Addison is the only critic who knows who to ridicule without inflicting a wound. Through his mild satire he tries to correct the society. Thought his contemporaries like Pope, Dryden and Defoe were also satirist, but they were personal in their satire. For example: Pope’s Rape of the Lock and Dunciad; another instance of personal satire is Dryden’s Absalom and Achitophel. But like them Addison does not satirizes anything that is a serious defect of mankind.

Addison was a great critic and a social reformer who brought about a change in the life of the contemporary people through his contribution to The Spectator, which he founded in collaboration with his friend Richard Steel. In The Spectator he appears as a judious critic of manners and morals of the society. The main aim of The Spectator was to reform the society, and it was Addison’s task: “to enliven morality with wit; and to temper wit with morality” and again in his essay The Scope of the Satire he professes that his aim is: “to satirises the vanity of the society, but he was very careful and does not want personal in any satire”.

Addison noticed that the manners of the society have been corrupted by the stage actors. He exposed the principle of modern comedy by statling its clarity. He was not in the favour of showing of “Cuckolds” on the stage. As a result, cuckolds disappeared from the stage. Marriages in the city also become happy, so Addison cries: “I am glad to find, in particular, my discourses on the marriage well received.” Thus, Addison satirizes the shallowness of the restoration manner. Addison thinks that party system was absurd in the society. He calls it parents of hypocrisy and self-deception. So Sir Roger often closes his narrative on the reflection of mischief that parties do in the society.

Addison also exposed the trifles in which the women of the time participate. He laugth at the follies and foibles of the modern women. He was against the feminine violence in the parties. He says that women should not spend their time in dressing up themselves but should elevate their minds also. Thus, the main aim of The Spectator is to correct the society.

As a critic, Addison satirises the society in good and humored way. He was like a judge who “castigates only in smiling”. He uses less contempt more benevolence. He uses his power to satirse through the character of Roger, when he observes:
“there is no one in the town where he lives
that he is not sued”. (Sir Roger at Assizes)
The character of roger was created by Addison and steel. They invented their mind with extremes simplicity. Through him, Addison launched his good natured satire in Tory Country gentleman of the age. According to Huge Walker, Sir Roger is unquestionably one of the treasures of English literature. His tenets grow rich, his servant looks satisfied, young girls profess love to him and all young men like of his company. He is one of the greatest creations of Addison. In noting else he shows more originality.

Addison shows the conflict between rural feudalism and urban manner in a brilliant way. The Spectator is the picture of Addison himself. His essays are full of neatness. His sentences are short and he polished his phrases until the rhyme was perfected. His prose style has been called “middle flight” by Johnson. His style is easy with learning and it does not lead to obscurity.

There are many elements in The Spectator which are the germs of the novel which come to being in eighteen century. The Spectator can be called a forerunner of the novel, but Addison was a rural writer. He was a perfect artist and there is no “iron” in him, remarks C.S. Lewis.

Thus we see that Addison’s contribution to English literature is great indeed. His sentences are simple and polished. His style has melody which we cannot find any where else. Through his essays he satirises the society but he does not injure the feelings of public as like in the case of Defoe, Dryden, Swift and Pope. His contemporary, Pope, remarks: “his sentences have something more charming in it that I have found in any men”.

In sum, Addison was, indeed, a great satirist of his age who wanted to correct his society through his mild satire. He refers himself as Mr. Spectator. As Mr. Spectator, he looks at the world with eyes of a mature person who is always hopeful of betterment. Macaulay remarks: “Addison’s humanity is without a parallel in English literature”.


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